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Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of
Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company,
Evolve Media.

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship
pay-per-views has changed: UFC 249 is only available on ESPN+ in the
U.S.

* * *


Close your eyes and picture a global pandemic sweeping the planet.
Thousands around the world are dead, with nearly the entire
population enduring some form of social restrictions, as doctors
and scientists do their best to handle the threat of the
coronavirus. Meanwhile, the man in charge decides the best way to
fight this non-sentient being is by defiantly puffing out a
prideful chest and choosing audacity over all else. Open your eyes
and tell me who you pictured in that scenario. If your answer was
President Trump you’d only be half right.

The bold persona of
Ultimate Fighting Championship
President Dana White has been
credited as one of his greatest assets. At a time when mixed
martial arts was nearly pushed into complete obscurity and
irrelevance in North America, the Boston native made his presence
felt and boosted the marquee brand and a struggling sport. Whether
he was lashing out at boxing promoters who complained about the new
“uncivilized” type of fighting or boisterously making sure you knew
the UFC was in town, it worked.

However, the challenge facing the promotion now is far worse than
mean words from a rival promoter or a pearl-clutching critic
screaming, “What about the children?” The threat posed by COVID-19
cannot be yelled at, shouted down, humiliated in the public eye or
absorbed as the latest Zuffa acquisition, so why is White treating
it as such? With the total of confirmed cases and deaths across
Asia and Europe, nations around the world took notice and began to
act accordingly. In the realm of combat sports, that included One
Championship postponing events and closing another off from the
general public. The UFC wisely moved strawweight champion Weili Zhang
to several locations ahead of her defense at UFC 248 to avoid the
virus’ increasing number of hot spots around the globe.
Unfortunately, that same proactive approach seemed to vanish once
the virus became a problem in the Americas. As numerous conventions
and festivals decided cancelling or postponing their plans was the
wisest path for public health, White did not entertain the
possibility of it affecting future dates. After ESPN’s Marc
Raimondi was booed by fans for asking the question at a press
conference, White even seemed to revel in the reaction. Not even
the NBA’s decision to suspend its season when several players
tested positive for COVID-19 swayed White’s energy. As other major
sporting entities like the NCAA and MLB decided to follow suit, the
UFC persisted.

After the Brazilian government banned mass gatherings in an effort
to stop the rapid spread of the virus, the UFC moved ahead with UFC
Fight Night 170 in an empty arena in Brasilia. Granted, fight week
had already begun when these changes were made, so even though
moving ahead with the 12-fight card can certainly be frowned upon,
there is a case to be made for the show to go on. If the UFC
machine had stopped there, we wouldn’t have much about which to
complain. With traveling fighters and coaches already in the host
city and with the venue set up, it’s possible to objectively see
the merit in continuing with the altered plans. Unfortunately, it
didn’t stop there.

As state and city governments began to impose restrictions in the
United States, the UFC insisted on operating with the same maverick
spirit that carried the company through the North American dark
age. White announced that his company was moving the upcoming
stateside cards to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, while the London
event would remain in its original form. Had it stopped there, once
again, there would not be a whole lot about which to complain.

White on SportsCenter claimed the UFC was working closely with
officials in the United Kingdom and with the Nevada Athletic
Commission to make sure the upcoming events would be safe. Yet
again, it didn’t stop there. Despite White using his direct line to
the White House as validation for dogmatically sticking to his
guns, Trump’s announcing massive travel restrictions soon
afterwards threw a huge monkey wrench into a UFC machine that
already had a huge monkey wrench in it. Additionally, Nevada
dropped the axe on any hopes that the Apex would be the safe haven
for the busy schedule. So where would the fights take place now?
How would fighters from around the world be able to make their
dates? How would they make it back home afterwards? Evidently,
those questions didn’t need to be answered. The fights were still
going to happen. Anything else was cast aside as complaints and
bellyaching from “wimps and weaklings.” Hey, Leon
Edwards
, do you still want to headline this card? Well, you and
your team have three hours to make it the airport. By the way, we
don’t know where the fight is going to be held, we’re not sure
where you’ll stay when you land in the United States and we don’t
know how you’ll make it back home to your family, either, but the
show must go on.

Over the past week, White has made the rounds on several outlets to
reiterate his intention to deliver
UFC 249
on April 18. With the United States officially
surpassing every other country in confirmed cases of COVID-19,
there seems to be even less desire to slow things down in the
interest of keeping fighters and staff safe. Instead, it has
increased the levels of Vintage Dana. From proudly stating that no
one should bet against him to proclaiming his indifference to
catching the virus himself and then comparing precautions to
“hiding from cancer,” it’s reminiscent of the man who profanely
demanded respect and bucked at his enemies in the early 2000s.
However, standing tall seems foolhardy in this instance. The
coronavirus isn’t negotiating for pay-per-view points or looking to
place a sponsorship logo on the Octagon floor. Yet White is
challenging it as if there was a Spike TV series documenting his
training ahead of the boxing match.

While everyone who loves MMA wants to see Khabib
Nurmagomedov
and Tony
Ferguson
finally meet one another and make good on their fifth
booking together, at what point is that scheduled 25 minutes no
longer worth it? Is it worth it to potentially risk the long-term
health and safety of either man or anyone in their camps to make
this happen? If a UFC staff member or an ailing relative of an
involved party were to find themselves in a dire medical situation,
would it be an even trade? Considering the possibility of
asymptomatic transmission, those are questions that White, his
bosses at Endeavor and every stubborn fan clinging to the seemingly
cursed bout need to ask themselves. Looking at the fallout of the
Brasilia card should raise even more red flags. Randa
Markos
and John
Makdessi
had to self-quarantine with no access to adequate
medical care, so it’s clear the UFC didn’t have a good plan in
place. White even publicly stated he didn’t know about any plans to
isolate fighters after events as a precaution. Additionally,
fighters weren’t tested for COVID-19 in Brasilia despite loud
boasts about going above and beyond for safety. White shut down
questions about fighters being tested for the virus ahead of UFC
249. If the recent past is a reliable look into the future, there
may not be plans for quarantines and tests. His insistence that the
media doesn’t need to know any details is the exact opposite
approach taken by the NBA, where testing of athletes and staff have
been reported.

In White’s eyes, the sports leagues that decided to err on the side
of caution were “panicking” while the UFC was instead working with
governments and health officials to ensure the opening bell would
ring. In reality, governments and health officials have consulted
with the other leagues, but they handled the information
differently. The presence of a team in an era of social restriction
gives one-on-one contests a bit more room on which to stand, but
not much. The need for two fighters, coaches, cutmen, commission
officials and cameramen make it nearly impossible to seamlessly
televise a fight without violating Centers for Disease Control and
World Health Organization guidelines or sacrificing quality in some
way.

White’s bravado has gotten the UFC a long way, and it probably can
continue taking the organization to new heights if the ascension
from sideshow to ESPN darling is any indication. However, this
situation is much different. It’s time to sit down and humble
yourself. Hubris is not a vaccine.

Help Prevent the Spread of the Coronavirus

Sherdog recommends all readers comply with CDC guidelines and remain as isolated as
possible during this urgent time. Visit the Centers for Disease
Control at CDC.gov or
the World Health Organization at Who.int for the latest information on the coronavirus
and learn what you can do to stop the spread.
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